Angela Hunt: In the search for a new city manager, give neighborhood groups a voice

Selecting Dallas’ next city manager is the most important decision the city council members will make while in office. In our “weak mayor/strong city manager” system, the city manager calls the shots, recommending how to spend the city’s $2.5 billion annual budget, allocating resources to our streets, parks, libraries, police, fire and code compliance departments as well as setting the priorities of city staff.

Given the direct impact our city manager has on our neighborhoods’ day-to-day quality of life — and how critical strong neighborhoods are to our tax base — you would think Dallas neighborhoods would have a significant voice in the selection of our city’s next CEO. You would be wrong.

The search firm responsible for vetting city manager candidates needs to understand the issues that matter most to the people who live and breathe Dallas, who want Dallas to be a great city to live in, not just to visit or to do business in.

So far, the search firm hired by the city to find our next city manager has not met with a single neighborhood group. Not one. But they have found time to meet with the Dallas Citizens Council. And the Dallas Regional Chamber. And the Real Estate Council. And other business groups.

Don’t get me wrong. The consultants should reach out to Dallas business leaders. Our business community plays an important role in the economic health of our city, so it’s reasonable for the consultants to want that perspective on the city manager search. The problem lies in seeking counsel only from the business community. Its perspective is important, but limited.

The fact is, many in the business community don’t experience Dallas in the same way you and I do. Many of them don’t reside in our city. They don’t depend on trash pickup from the City of Dallas, and they don’t call our 311 system when they have a problem. They aren’t visiting our neighborhood parks or worrying about how quickly the Dallas Police Department will get to their homes in an emergency. Their business life may be here, but they haven’t made their lives here. It’s an investment of a different order, and the people who have made Dallas their home deserve at least an equal voice in the conversation about our next city manager.

The search firm responsible for vetting city manager candidates needs to understand the issues that matter most to the people who live and breathe Dallas, who want Dallas to be a great city to live in, not just to visit or to do business in, and who want City Hall to be more responsive to residents. That means engaging with Dallas neighborhoods.

Luckily, several pro-neighborhood council members, including Philip Kingston, Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano and Sandy Greyson, have demanded that the consultants reach out to us. The search firm can streamline the process by meeting with umbrella organizations such as the Dallas Homeowners League, the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League and others that represent neighborhood interests.

But if the consultants wait until the end of the process to seek neighborhood input, my guess is that — like many city-sponsored meetings — the “neighborhood involvement” portion will just be window-dressing, and the real decisions will have already been made.

But let’s be optimistic, shall we? Let’s imagine the search firm does meet with neighborhood groups, and the neighborhood groups say, “Here are the questions we want you to ask the city manager candidates.” And suppose the consultants actually pose those questions to the candidates, with the last one being:

“Quick! You have to choose between building an expensive designer boondoggle and fixing crumbling neighborhood streets. Who is the first person you call to help you make that decision?”

That last one will tell the tale.

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  • Julie

    Why would consultants be better at finding great potential Dallas city managers than a Task Force made up of citizens, educators and small and large business owners from each district? The idea that we need consultants to find someone who is a good fit is flawed. The notion that they will be unbiased is flawed. Consulting is a business. Talking to business groups who include potential future clients seems a natural fit and it’s not surprising that these groups are dominating the conversations. If their client (the City of Dallas) mandated and prioritized that they speak with groups of homeowners and neighborhood preservation groups – those of us who live in, work in and give back to the city, the consultants would likely be doing this. Is a former council member eligible to be City Manager? If yes, Angela would be at the top of my list of recommendations to the city (consult fee= $0).

  • Ted Barker

    Very good article. I just came across Angela’s commentary. The “window-dressing” comment rings true.

  • Chelsea

    Records at the Jefferson St Permit Office are a joke too. Something must be
    done to streamline the process and reduce the red tape to pull permits. Platts, Cert of Occupancy etc are in missing in most cases. The attempt to convert to digital has been a laughing joke. The amount of time I have had to waste in trying to pull otherwise easy permits has given me the impression that one department does not know what the other does or you get sent somewhere on a wild goose chase. Or, they make it up as they go along and it may work once and then another time your told to do something different! It’s no wonder they have to post a police officer in the main permit room; people get frustrated with the lack of knowledge and assistance they expect from civil servants.

  • Tom Henderson

    Great article. This hits the nail on the head.

    I am very uninterested in how the next City Manager is going to cure world hunger and poverty and domestic violence.

    I am very interested in how the next City Manager is going to deal with Tyronne McGill in the Code Compliance department, who I called 3 weeks ago and left a voice mail. So far, he has not called back, and the problem in the Code department concerning a City employee who is not doing her job, and possibly not even showing up for work anymore, has continued for 5 months now.

    We need a City Manager who can manage the inefficiencies, failures, and laziness in the various departments in the City of Dallas. I am not so sure that we need a “visionary” City Manager. The City Council can “dream up” enough fancy new projects all by themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t believe everything you’re told. Believe with your eyes, not ears, and question everything like Angela did.

  • Philip Kingston

    Just for clarity, we demanded that the search firm meet with neighborhood groups BEFORE the search began so that their input would help shape the search. I was told unequivocally that such meetings would occur, and I do not believe there was any question about the timing of those meetings.

  • Tony Farrer

    I LOVE Angela !!! NOT just because she represented my neighborhood for 8 years, NOT just because I was fortunate enough that she and her husband (now 2 daughters) moved in across the street from me 13 years ago, NOT just because she is a dear friend and neighbor, but because she is a wonderfully intelligent person who TRULY cares about Dallas and it’s neighborhoods in the right way and is one of the most logical, hardworking individuals that we are lucky and fortunate enough to have in our wonderful city !!

  • Paul Hille

    An absolute must!

  • Juan M

    Angela Hunt for City Manager!